The Hardest Chord

Tyler McNeil

Creative Editor

“Music is about listening to something you can relate to and understand that you’re not alone,” said Michael Sweeney, with a glossy, black acoustic guitar resting on his lap.

Music has permitted Sweeney to overcome many challenges that the artist has faced backstage. “When I needed music to be there, music was there. People are busy and they can’t always be there for you but you can pick up a guitar any day of the week and let out how you feel in a healthy, appropriate way,” he said.

When he was 18, Sweeney was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), a central nervous system autoimmune disease that disrupts the flow of information between the brain and body and within the brain. On his 18th birthday at Niagara Falls in Canada, Sweeney went blind in his right eye for a month as a complication of MS. “I was supposed to take steroids to cure my eye over time to get the vision back and I had to wear an eyepatch. One day, my doctor told me to take off the eyepatch and after eight days it healed. The doctor said it was good luck,” said Sweeney.

“At first I was heartbroken [over being diagnosed with MS] but eventually I realized it’s more a blessing,” Sweeney noted, “it made me tougher and made me realize I could do a lot more than I think. If you make it a blessing, it becomes a blessing.”

85 percent of MS patients are diagnosed in the Northeastern states. Researchers speculate that rapid changes in weather are responsible for the disproportionality.

Sweeney is currently writing a song about living with MS. “I want to make sure that when I write that song, it has full meaning to the maximum that it can possibly have,” he said. “When I write lyrics, I want them in a song to share for the rest of my life.”

Aside from health struggles, the artist has struggled with love and loss, juggling his personal life and success.

“For a long time I went through alcoholism and did a lot of regretful things,” said Sweeney in response to his grandfather passing away, “I missed school, I hated talking to people, I gave up and I later figured he wouldn’t have wanted any of it.”

Sweeney attended summer school in his seventh, eighth and ninth grades and failed his sophomore year twice. In his junior year, he was recommended GED programs after failing to attend class regularly. Instead of dropping out, Sweeney took Criminal Justice programs at the F. Donald Myers Education Center in Saratoga Springs. “The more I took the class, the more I loved the subject. It’s a career in helping other people,” he said grinning. Sweeney graduated high school as part of the class of 2013.

“Music can always be played recreationally, over time it adds up,” said Sweeney. “If I could have it as a career I would take it in a heartbeat but I think every musician should be smart and always get a college degree.”

After Hudson Valley, Sweeney wishes to obtain a Masters or Ph.D in Forensics Science at UAlbany, one of the most prestigious universities to study the program. “You’d be surprised how many musicians have degrees. Learning more about literature, math and science can easily tie into music. You don’t have to be educated to play music,” he continued, “you have to be educated to play good music.”

Sweeney’s journey through music began when he was 12. He joined “Guitar Club”, an afternoon extracurricular activity suggested to him through his music teacher at the time, Ms. Dawson. “I always used to love just surrounding my head with music and it was always awesome to be at live shows, so [learning the guitar] looked like the way to go,” Sweeney said.

For his first three months learning the guitar, Sweeney found that “[learning the guitar] was much more difficult than I expected, physically more than anything else. I used to play without a pick and I would always get these horrific blisters on my finger.”

After six months of learning how to play the guitar, he began to play along with songs and eventually started composing his own music. Sweeney also started playing the drums when he was around 14. “Drums always looked cool. Who doesn’t like banging on things deep down inside?” he laughed.

Nearly a year and a half later, he felt, “this is something I can do live. This is something I can do in front of other people.”

Sweeney’s first venue was in 2012 at Upstate Concert Hall in Clifton Park, formerly known as Northern Lights, in front of a crowd of about 200 people. “It took me awhile to get comfortable. At my first show I was very nervous. I actually played a bass guitar at Northern Lights when it was Northern Lights. I was very shaky and very, very nauseous,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney played with various local bands in the Capital Region including Almost Accounted For, Karmas Choice, Igniting Innocence, Dreaming Up Forever and Silence at the Sea before  playing solo in May of this year. In April, Sweeney started to incorporate vocals in his music. “Singing is a whole different level of confidence. When you spread your voice to the world, there’s something different about it.”

Vocals have been challenging to master for the artist. “It’s a hard struggle to learn how to sing. Everybody can learn how to sing differently, It’s not like a guitar where you can just look at notes and play them. It depends on you and it’s incredibly complicated,” Sweeney described.

He mentioned his favorite work as “She Is,” a tale of his first love at the age of 16. “I think you can take that feeling about actually finding somebody you love and relate that to anybody really,” he said about the universal message of the song. Sweeney wrote “She Is” in July and released the song in August this year.

His five song album, produced by Restless Street’s Brandon John, is expected to be released in mid-October.

Sweeney has played regularly at Pauly’s Hotel located on Central Avenue in Albany since August. “I’m pumped up to do it and I’m ready for people to hear me. I’ve been with a lot of bands that I know and I love seeing them. I hope they at least like seeing me,” joked Sweeney.

Over the course of his solo act, Sweeney has encountered what he considers “lunacy at best.” At a Thursday night open mike at the Daily Grind, a drunk man approached Sweeney after performing a provocative stand-up routine. Sweeney recalls, “I’ll never forget what he said to me afterwards. He said, ‘we should get together and be like Ben and Stiller.”

The solo artist performs on campus at least an hour a day to “keep up” with his work. Sweeney plays with fellow guitarists Daeron Bennett and Dante Carr during breaks.

“I love playing the guitar outdoors. You get a better understanding of the environment. The environment adds another element to music,” Sweeney noted. “If you play near a waterfall and you sing the chords, you can almost tie it in with the water.”

“I enjoy playing all types of music. I’ve been a scream vocalist in a few side projects but I play classical as well,” Sweeney said. He lists his guilty pleasures as Phillip Phillips, One Direction, Chris Daughtery, Chris Brown, Jordin Sparks and Avril Lavigne. Sweeney said, “Some days that’s all I want to listen to, preferably out of public eye.”

Aside from guilty pleasures, he admires local artist Eric Lewis of Bases Loaded. “He’s absolutely brilliant on the guitar and you can tell he’s madly in love with his work,” he said. Sweeney also mentioned Chaga, an alternative band formed in the Amsterdam area around late July of this year, “They haven’t been together for too long but it’s like they’ve been together for years,” he commented.

Music from the artist can be found on http://www.facebook.com/SweeneyAcoustic

 

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